Sunday, December 6, 2009

...the retina of the mind's eye.

 (Heads Up: Some spoilers for FlashForward ahead.)

Last Friday's episodes of Dollhouse were some of the best yet. And surprisingly it wasn't because Summer Glau did a turn as the creepy Bennett Halverson, though it was nice to see her get a chance to play a role that let her display some emotion. No, it was that business with Victor (Enver Gjokaj) taking on Topher's (Fran Kranz) personality that stole the show. Gjokaj's impersonation of Kranz's character was too funny for words. I can't believe a show this good is already canceled.

The year started out looking pretty good in terms of network TV sf. We had a brooding Terminator show, this new Joss Whedon epic, Dollhouse, J. J. Abrams working his magic with Fringe, and there's even a show based on a Hugo Award nominated sf novel, FlashForward. The TV had become of veritable cornucopia of sf goodies. But now as the winter solstice approaches the horn of plenty is starting to dry up. Terminator got the ax months ago. Dollhouse was canceled, renewed, and has now been canceled again. And both the other shows I regularly watch are hanging on by their finger nails.

Fringe is admittedly an X-Files pastiche (which they even alluded to by having an episode of X-Files on a TV in the background of one scene) but it manages improve upon the original premise. I'm one of those people who liked certain episodes of  the X-Files -- particularly "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," which is a classic -- but not the overarching plot about the government conspiring with alien invaders. Fringe is much more clever and coherent. Things like having the Observer hidden somewhere in each episode may be a gimmick, but it's a fun one. Luckly the news is the ratings have improved, so hopefully it will stay on the air.

I had high hopes for FlashForward, which is loosely based on Robert J. Sawyer's novel, and still watch it, but the show's producers have mishandled it from the start. The shows biggest problem is that the main character, FBI Special Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), is a douchebag. Needless to say he was not in the original book. There are interesting characters in the cast, but they never focus on them. And that's the big problem of the show: lack of focus. Just when it seems like they're on the trail of some mystery, like what (or who) caused the flashforward, or who will kill Demetri, the show meanders off on a soap opera tangent and you lose any sense that there's a mystery to be solved. Plus it's full of contrived nonsense that falls flat. The worst example is Janis Hawk (Christine Woods). Her character is a lesbian who sees that she's inexplicably pregnant in her flashforward. How can that be? Then she's shot in the stomach. Oh, no! How can she have a baby now? Quick, off to get artificially inseminated. WTF? I'm not faulting Woods here, who does a good job with the part, I'm faulting the hackneyed writing. All this is starting to tell as the show's ratings are so bad it's been put into suspended animation until March. This is almost worse than being canceled for a show which has as its central premise the solving of mysteries six months in the future. When it finally gets back on the air the events seen during the flashforward will be at hand and we'll be no closer to having any answers.

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